Social media offers four different ways to collect information from a substantial number of sources. First, you can apply knowledge organization to classify and catalog information or content, such as creating a playlist on YouTube and adding videos associated with that category. Second, social networking offers opportunities for collaboration and interactivity. Facebook, for instance, lets users share information such as a New York Times article to their profile page, allowing their online community to view and distribute that knowledge to others. Social media environments are a place for users to engage with a database that is dedicated to producing and potentially archiving information regularly. Finally, users can practice information retrieval by collecting and gathering data through a particular social media site. The universal tool to retrieve data and information on social media sites is the hashtag. By placing a pound symbol in front of a word or phrase, users locate and compile content associated with the chosen hashtag, including images, videos, and articles.
Higher-ed students in all disciplines can use the hashtag as a research mechanism. Because these students typically use the hashtag for entertainment purposes and building community, I recommend focusing on how they can use hashtags and social media platforms to research various topics and locate information. Here are two sample social media research assignments I’ve conducted using hashtags and social media. While the studies are associated with my courses, the concept and theory can be applied to all disciplines.
Social media research assignment example 1: Using hashtags to analyze reactions of a television series. Over the last several years, TV has greatly evolved. Today, viewers consume an episode through a streaming on demand service (Netflix, Hulu), watch on a variety of mobile devices, and binge multiple episodes in a row. Another new feature of modern television viewing is the act of companion television, in which an individual uses a second device (phone, tablet, laptop) to communicate and interact with other fans of the show who share similar interests. Many television series include their hashtag on the top left or right of the screen. For example, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars puts #DWTS on the screen.
In my media literacy course, students analyze Twitter posts for the duration of an episode of a television series. The goal is to evaluate the different emotions and reactions viewers share with others through social media sites when watching television. Students use Twitter to retrieve data in real time. I suggest dramas on traditional/cable television, but students select the show they want to use. Then they collect tweets to analyze viewer’s reactions toward an episode of a television program.